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The Conservative Voice of Henry County
Issue # 335
March 28, 2012 Over 37,000 reads at Scribd.com
In This Issue:
Page Feature 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 TIA Costs More than it Gives Who is Behind T-SPLOST? Gary Barham Kick Off Monroe Roark: County Budget Stockbridge Mayor & Council Henry County Budget Woes Marsha Schobert s Wisdom
Seen in Tifton, Georgia
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Editorial / Publication Policy
Transit costs more than it gives
By Steve Brown, Fayette County Commissioner
The Transportation Investment Act, or TIA, is turning into an infomercial like you see on TV, promising to revolutionize your lives, never living up to the hype. TIA was created to relieve regional TRAFFIC congestion, but the process was hijacked by special interest desires, shelving many legitimate road projects. Over half the total funding, $3.2 billion, is going to a mode of transportation that less than 5 percent of commuters choose to use mass transit. The indoctrination via the advertising on why you should vote for the TIA has begun. Special interests, most recently the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, backed by groups such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber, are spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million trying to convince you to support the TIA. The obvious question is, if the list of projects is so beneficial, then why do they need to spend so much trying to persuade us? Likewise, if voting for the TIA is a no-brainer, then why did the LEGISLATURE build in a financial penalty for local county transportation projects if the TIA is voted down? Even with all their power and money, these special interests know it s the voters demanding efficient and accountable government and not likely to be wooed by the thought of perpetual indebtedness to an underused and broken transit system who have the real power to simply say no. It s a tough sell, saying the way to solve our TRAFFIC congestion problem is to take our mass-transit system that is 80 percent or more subsidized, with huge budget deficits, has billions in backlogged maintenance and is used by less than 5 percent of commuters and make it bigger. Look for small print on those ads saying the only way to fund the exorbitant future operations and maintenance expenses of an expanded transit system is with a permanent regional sales tax. Once you install the permanent regional sales tax, it never goes away. The barrage of favorable TIA ads with no reporting of the harsh financial downside could influence voters who know very little about our infrastructure. Sadly, most government officials refer to inflated economic development benefits because the TIA does little for TRAFFIC congestion. We need formal debates on the TIA as soon as possible and to upload them to the Internet. The voters deserve to hear both sides of the argument, not just a whitewashed horde of feel-good ads from chamber of commerce types. Hopefully, TIA supporters will accept my debate challenge, and let s have two teams provide an open dialogue so the voters can be properly informed and not brainwashed by $7 million worth of lopsided advertising.
Inside the loop: A look at who s behind the push for a transportation sales tax
By DAVID PENDERED for the Atlanta Business Chronicle
This story was updated Tuesday morning. The flow chart depicting the campaign structure was changed to reflect new information on its social media vendor as provided by Citizens for Transportation Mobility, Inc. A baker s dozen of community leaders serve on the boards of two campaigns to promote passage of this summer s vote on a proposed 1 percent sales tax that is to raise $6.14 billion to build roads and transit. The two campaigns are run by two distinct organizations. Both MAVEN and Citizens for Transportation Mobility, Inc. are set up with the Secretary of State as non-profit corporations, and one is registered as a fundraising committee with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. The campaign strategy is for MAVEN to educate voters through April. CTM then will start a persuasion campaign to convince voters to actually go to the polls during the July 31 primary election and support the referendum. Click here to download an attachment with a hierarchical flow chart of the campaign: HTTP://SAPORTAREPORT.COM/?ATTACHMENT_ID=13038 Click here to download an attachment with CTM s board members and corporate officers: HTTP://SAPORTAREPORT.COM/?ATTACHMENT_ID=13019 Click here to download an attachment with MAVEN s board members and corporate officers: HTTP://SAPORTAREPORT.COM/?ATTACHMENT_ID=13024 CTM first registered with the state campaign finance commission on June 2, 2010. CTM has not filed a campaign disclosure statement and is not required to do so until 15 days before the election, which is set for July 31. A grace period extends the filing deadline to July 23. CTM spokesman Jeff Dickerson said the organization expects to file a financial disclosure in May. CTM released a partial list of donors to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which ran the list Sunday next to an editorial that was generally supportive of the sales tax. Click here to see the list of donors. CTM first registered as a non-profit the same day it filed with the state campaign finance commission. The paperwork shows the initial board of directors included three local business leaders: Bill Linginfelter, an area president of Regions Bank; David Stockert, president/CEO of Post Properties; and Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the corporation is to advocate for passage of the 1 percent sales tax for transportation. It is not a political action committee, or PAC. Instead, it filed as a ballot committee, meaning that it intends to campaign on behalf of a question that will be posed on a ballot.
This is the same system used by the organization that campaigned for Atlanta s effort to extend the sales tax for water and sewer upgrades. That organization, Citizens for Clean Water, also registered as a ballot committee. Stockert now serves as CTM s CEO and board chairman. Ligenfelter and Williams are not on the board, which now consists of six community leaders. The other campaign organization is MAVEN, the Metro Atlanta Voters Education Network. It was incorporated as a non-profit Sept. 20, 2010. The Metro Atlanta Chamber was represented in that organization, as it was with CTM. MAVEN s three top corporate offices were filled by Renay Blumenthal, the chamber s senior vice president for public policy. She stepped aside, according to papers filed in January, and was replaced as CEO by Bob Voyles, principal/CEO of Seven Oaks Co.; and as secretary/treasurer by Brad Alexander, now a senior vice president at McGuireWoods Consulting and former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
MAVEN is the more widely known entity of the two campaigns. It is affiliated with two other groups Transform Metro Atlanta, which provides information about the campaign; and First Friday Transportation Forum, a consortium of nearly 100 organizations that meets the first Friday of the month to learn about efforts involved with the transportation sales tax.
Monroe Roark Speaks on the County Budget
Mr. Roark is a candidate for Chairman of the Henry County Board of Commissioners
A citizen committee is currently reviewing the county budget information with the goal of providing input that could assist the Board of Commissioners in its task of approving a final budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Soliciting citizen involvement in this case was a good idea, although it is unclear right now whether the group will be able to accomplish its goal in a relatively short period of time given the size of the task and the number of people involved. There is not time to argue over thousands of dollars when the need is to cut millions of dollars. Whatever decisions are made will be painful for some; that is the reality we now face. It will likely be argued that a millage increase does not necessarily mean a tax increase because of the continued depreciation of home values. That argument is not acceptable. A millage increase should be the absolute last resort, after every conceivable cost-cutting option has been considered. Keep in mind that such a move would not only affect homeowners directly, but also small business owners who pay property taxes on commercial buildings. We must address the priorities clearly so everyone will understand. Some county departments are constitutionally required and/or necessary for our most basic quality of life. Public safety is the obvious first example. Roads must be maintained. We have to hold elections. The stormwater department is a federal mandate. There are many county services that are enjoyable for citizens but not necessary for our safety and security. Those areas are a lesser priority than the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is just common sense. We cannot simply cut every department by the same percentage when we are losing dozens of police officers every year to other jurisdictions, while those on the force 5-7 years are barely making 20 dollars a week more than when they started. A lot of people have been sacrificing for years, and they have sacrificed enough. Is everyone feeling that kind of pain? Members of the local judiciary receive state salaries plus generous supplements provided by the county. Those payment plans have hardly been discussed, and some leaders apparently do not want to discuss them. Keeping those inflated salaries intact while local law enforcement personnel endure the hardships already described is simply not right. It has been widely publicized that the county commissioners' own salaries have risen considerably in the past six years. Without getting into the debate over whether that was done properly, it would be an obvious statement of good faith to employees and taxpayers alike for the current board to reduce its compensation significantly or even return it to the 2006 level. I would have no problem whatsoever serving at the reduced salary, and anyone else running for a seat this year should feel the same way. It is called "leading by example." There are other ways to show fiscal restraint while taking care of pressing needs. I cannot foresee ANY need for additional capital purchases in the next four years, and there should be a clear message sent that such spending would not happen during that time. Also, the county has a
reserve fund also known as a "rainy day" fund. I would submit that it is not raining right now; it is pouring. Could some of that money be used to shore up deficiencies in county employee compensation for the upcoming fiscal year? At the very least it should be a discussion point. There are undoubtedly other options that I have not mentioned. It is an arduous task, but we must explore every possibility. Let's strive to be the best possible stewards of our county's resources that we can be. After all, it's our money. Monroe Roark
Stockbridge: The Mayor and The Council
Yesterday at the Superior Court of Henry County the Judge found that the Mayor of Stockbridge did not have a case for a Temporary Restraining Order against the City Council. Since the Mayor did not win this argument in court then he should be paying the court cost for the city which is the council and the citizens. Then the Council had their meeting last evening and afterwards it was made known that a Mandamus will be issued against the Mayor of Stockbridge requiring him to sign three documents he has not signed if he doesn't do so in a specified time. According a Mandamus he would have 24 hours to sign the documents and then the Council may proceed with court proceedings against him. He then would have approximately 3 weeks to sign the documents or be held in contempt of court and possibly go to jail. If anyone does not know what a Mandamus is here is the definition: An extraordinary writ issued from a court to an official compelling performance of a ministerial act that the law recognizes as an absolute duty, as distinct from other types of acts that may be a matter of the official's discretion. It is extraordinary in the sense that it is used only when all other judicial remedies have failed or are inadequate. What is really sad about all this is the fact that the only reason the Mayor of Stockbridge is creating this environment toward the City Administrator is that he just doesn't like the guy. I have had to work with many people in my life that I don't like personally, but that has nothing to do with their job. The City of Stockbridge under former Mayor Rudy Kelley and the former City Administrator the late Ted Strickland hired the current City Administrator Ray Gibson then as Assistant City Administrator. They felt that he was more than qualified since he had worked for the Henry County Government for several years in a Dept. Directorship role. The Mayor's job of the City of Stockbridge is more than just seeing that sidewalks are built on S. Berry Street. His job should be to see that the elderly and poor who live in Ansley Park are made safe from gang activity in the area. His job should be to see that it is safe for people to walk to the store from Walter Way without being robbed of their food. His job should be to see that a person is heard in the correct way at a public meeting instead of a bully tactic. Let the City Manager manage, instead of creating road blocks at every turn. If the Mayor cannot work with any council of the city since he has taken office, then why did he want the job?
Henry County s Budget Woes
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Except, perhaps, the random thoughts that may float through the heads of politicians trying to justify a tax hike.
Based on the information we have seen thus far, it appears that the Board of Commissioners will have to look at some very serious budget reductions. We have to stay focused on the big picture and not get caught up in the emotional attachment to departments and programs. Bottom line: raising millage rates is raising taxes. If I am unfortunate enough to have my property value fall again next year and the millage rate is raised, I will pay extra tax on property that is worth less. The county cannot expect to maintain the same level of spending by disregarding the fact that its citizens are losing value on the property they own. We are being presented with simple, basic facts for a complicated problem that did not start this year. Instead of asking a leader of a department what would happen if they were only given a certain amount of funds for their next budget, the county needs to spearhead an internal audit of each department to ensure that we are doing everything we can to make certain the resources we have are being used as economically as possible. If we learn to get by without raising taxes on our citizens and making them pay more money on their decreasing property values, then we might learn how to be more efficient when this economy does turn around and we have extra funds to spend for our community. The solution will require the county leadership across the board to act like the people that we serve and face the reality that we are in a recession and we have to rethink the way we spend every dollar. If in 2008, when it appeared we were heading for what we face in 2012, the leadership of our county had made the decision to prepare for this day, we wouldn t be in this position. It is unacceptable to think of having to lay off one public safety worker when we look back at the spending of this county over the past several years. If we are going to resort to a tax increase as a temporary fix to an ongoing problem, then at least call it what it is and own it. There are only two basic ways to deal with the situation: cut spending or increase revenue. The county budget has been cut significantly over the past few years. In my opinion, most of the "fat" has been cut and we are faced now with closing libraries, laying off police officers, shutting fire stations, reducing (or eliminating) recreation & senior services. If we are able to find some spending cuts, that will certainly help, but we must consider the revenue side of the budget as well. On the one hand It may not be popular, but it is realistic to consider that our revenue is expected to decline next year while demand for services (police, fire, etc.) will remain the same or perhaps increase. I think it is reasonable for me to pay the same dollar amount of tax on my house this year as I did last year. The way to accomplish that technically is to adjust the millage rate. I don't look at the rate from year to year, I look at the actual dollars I pay in tax. Considering a modest millage adjustment should be part of the conversation. And on the other hand .
Making the tax increase palatable by trying to hide it from homeowners is not the answer. Increasing the mil rate is a tax increase.
The increase from 11.75 mils to 13.8 is an increase of 17.4% no matter how you sale it to anyone. Do not believe the public is dumb; if a property tax comes about explain it. Hiding facts is misleading and causes mistrust with the government and elected representatives. Those who choose to justify the increase with comparing how much one pays compared to last year is misleading. Sure your payment may not be more than the year before but your asset has been declining. Raising the rates is an increase. And this from a small government conservative: Until I see the board of commissioners take seriously the need to cut spending to the point of $10million, I cannot support any front door or back door tax increase. We know the games of appraisals plus millage plus political spin. As a county it is imperative that we plan for the worst, and even be cautious praying for the Hopeful Scenario. To state that the county will more aggressively defend appraisals in court tells every taxpayer to prepare for war with the County. When people do not trust the government (the people we have elected to represent us) there is chaos.
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